It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

What? What? So what?

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” – Psalm 119:165

The Bible is an amazing book, written long ago. Yet its message applies not only to those for whom it was originally written, but also to everyone today who is open to receiving its message.

The goal of reading the Bible is rarely just to learn about the stories, wisdom, and history it contains. For most of us, reading it is a personal journey as we seek to know God, his plan for this world, and his purposes for our individual lives.

In that quest, we don’t just read passages from the Bible, but we interact with them. Years ago, I was taught to ask three questions about the biblical texts as I read. Those three questions are What? What? and So what?* Easy to remember, right?

What? What does the text say? Does it tell a story, give instruction, or offer a perspective?

What? What does it mean? What is God’s purpose for including this passage in the Bible? Is there a new insight or understanding for me?

So what? Why does it matter? Will what I am reading make a difference in my life? Am I willing to let its message change me?

Let’s never stop reading the Bible, meditating on its words, and taking them into our heart for comfort, direction, and growth. Effective interaction with God through his word is a lifelong journey and one with great rewards.

“But the performance isn’t just about our own private pilgrimage. It’s about becoming agents of God’s new world – workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty. If God does indeed speak through scripture, he speaks in order to commission us for tasks like these.” – N. T. Wright

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

All He Wants You to Have

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” – Philippians 4:11b-12

Remember Joseph? Favored son of Jacob, he was sold by his jealous brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was purchased by an official named Potiphar. Potiphar immediately recognized Joseph’s skills and put him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39) and he refused her, citing all the responsibilities and all the possessions Potiphar had given him charge of, then stating that it included pretty much everything – except her.

Joseph knew Potiphar had given him everything he wanted him to have – and it didn’t include his wife. Instead of thinking about her all the time and finding ways to rationalize responding to her invitation, he walked away knowing that saying “no” would cost him something.

Think now of all our Master has entrusted into our hands: Possessions, finances, health, relationships, creation, evangelizing, and teaching. He, too, gives us everything he wants us to have. Dallas Willard taught that, as we grow closer to God and experience his many blessings, we “find it possible to take the absence of something from our lives as sufficient proof that we do not need it.”

We must be careful never to step outside the boundaries of God’s commands to go after something he has not given us. Living within God’s boundaries will result in satisfaction, contentment, and peace. And maybe that’s enough. 

“Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” – Jerry Bridges

Speaking it

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15

In his book Life without Lack, Dallas Willard says, “All relationships and kingdoms work by words, and the first act of faith is to speak.” We have to say something out loud.

OK, so what do we say? He has a suggestion for that, too: Praise. That really is an easy place to start if we want to build relationship with God, isn’t it? Think something he has created. Surely there is something to praise him for: sunrise, your dog, peaches, trees. Look around you and start with praise.

Or think about relationships in your life. Praise him for the people who matter to you and who have been placed beside you for a purpose. Thank him for his patience with you in those relationships.

Always start with praise. The Lord’s Prayer does when it acknowledges the holiness of God and his name. We do well to emulate that prayer. Then, after we have praised well, we can speak out other things: confession (Romans 10:9), requests, complaints (that’s OK – really – the psalmists do it), thanks, worship.

Do you see that it’s all about words? We cannot love God and relate to him with growing intimacy if we don’t use words. Words, as Willard says, are the tools by which all relationships and all kingdoms work – even the kingdom of God.

We can practice with praise (so easy!) and move on to the harder stuff from there. God will meet us where we are and invite us to keep on coming closer.

“Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” ~ Dallas Willard

This is the way . . .

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. – Isaiah 30:21

For some time now, I’ve kept a record of key dates in my life: Children, grandchildren, parents’ events, marriages, significant illnesses, personal crises, work history, new places, ministry involvement, publications. and so on. The list helps me keep track of experiences and the kinds of things that have shaped me. It also helps me see what I want to include in my future. We always need to be considering, “what’s next?”.

There’s scriptural precedence for this. I read Numbers 33 recently in which Moses recounts all the places the people of Israel had traveled from Egypt’s boundary until, 40 years later, they were once again on the edge of entering the land of promise. At the end of this recounting, God gave instructions for entering, conquering, and dividing the land. He gave them a backward look and then directed them forward. It’s almost as if he’s reminding them that what they were not ready for 40 years earlier, they are ready for now.

Where are you in your life today? Are you ready for a change you weren’t ready to face years ago? Do you feel you are on the edge of something new? That God is urging you forward into a new area of promise?

There may be value for all of us in the backward look personally, and also within organizations and even nations. We learn from mistakes, we see God’s hand at work, and we rejoice in his providence. Then we face forward once again and move on with confidence – forgiven, hopeful, wiser, and trusting.

“The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future of it. God will waste nothing” – Phillips Brooks

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

What about the big kids?

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:5

If you have adult children, how’s your relationship with them? We watch and worry as they learn how to do life on their own. There’s a problem, though, when we think our grown-up kids are still ours to direct and protect. If we respect them as adults, we may need to rethink our role.

At some point we have to let them go, encourage them to grow on their own, quit worrying so much about them, and stop trying to be their Holy Spirit. We can do that pretty well when we approve of their decisions, but not so well when we think we know better than they do how they should be living their lives. Some of you can relate to that.  And you know in your soul you have to stop trying parent to another adult.

So, as we let go, what do we do? First, we give up trying to control. Then we put them into the hands of our loving heavenly Father and under the guidance of the all-wise Holy Spirit. If you are at a loss as to how to do that, here’s what I have prayed about my own grown-up kids. Maybe it will help you, too.

Lord help me to . . .

love them deeply as you do,

guide them wisely as you would,

listen to them carefully,

hear what they’re not saying,

hold them loosely so they can fly, and

keep them ever before you in my prayers.

Amen

 

“We may not say that we have the answers. Questions of how to conduct oneself as a Christian or how to serve as a Christian must be answered by life itself- the life of the individual in his direct responsible relationship to God.” – Elisabeth Elliott

Reunion vs. Reconciliation

 

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14

Jacob had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright more than 20 years earlier and now was bringing his large family and flocks and herds back to Canaan. As he prepared to meet his angry brother, he sent gifts ahead, tried to protect his family from attack, and prayed for God’s favor. Fortunately for Jacob, the reunion was one of rejoicing and celebration. Forgiveness seemed to abound and, at least on the surface, all seemed to be well.

Esau, with true Middle Eastern hospitality, invited Jacob to bring his family and herds to live near him in Seir. Jacob says, in essence, “OK, but we’re going to travel slowly because of the little ones and the animals.” So Esau goes on ahead, but Jacob never follows him to Seir. Why? I think there were too many differences remaining between them – cultural, religious, and maybe even some obvious animus from previous offenses.

Reunion is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

Maybe there is a person in your life you think of as toxic, or even dangerous to your physical or emotional well-being. Can you forgive that person? Yes. Forgiveness is for your benefit even more than it is for the person who has hurt you. And God requires his people to forgive.

Should you be in close relationship with him/her again? Most likely not, unless you see a true and long-lasting change of heart. It’s possible Jacob knew association with Esau would bring trouble. So he agreed to an amicable relationship, but not a close one. Sometimes distance is the best decision. Forgiveness is one thing. Reconciliation is another.

“It takes one person to forgive, two people to be reunited.” – Lewis Smedes

Christian Privilege

“This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:5-6

We hear a lot these days about privilege, most frequently “white privilege”. We know it’s true, don’t we, that some of us grew up in more privileged circumstances than others? We had food to eat, decent clothes to wear. We had a safe place to live and got to go to school every day. 

We also know that with privilege comes responsibility. The Bible itself tells us that in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted much, much more will be asked.” It’s a biblical principal we must take seriously.

In light of that, think about this: As Christians, we have a far greater privilege than that which is afforded by our ethnicity, race, family stability, or the level of our education. We have the privilege of knowing and serving the living God! And with that comes greater responsibility than any social privilege might give us.

How do we live out that responsibility? We learn to yield to the Holy Spirit who will enable us to live as Jesus would if he were living our lives. We already know Jesus was confrontive with abusers, kind to children, compassionate toward the weak, patient with his followers, and enlightening to seekers of truth. His was the greatest privilege of all – after all he was the Son of God! He showed us how to live out privilege through humility and self-sacrifice.

The good news is that Christian privilege is available to all, no matter religion, race, gender, or intellect. If we know that, we have a responsibility to spread the word!

” . . . life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.” – Ravi Zacharias

 

Using Money

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” – 1 Timothy 6:18

Whether we have a lot of money or a little, God teaches us how to use it. This is what I think he has in mind for the cash in our pockets:

If we have a family, we’re responsible to take care of them. Children need clothes, food, shelter, education, and healthcare. Elderly parents may need financial support as their savings are depleted. Family is priority in God’s economic plan (1 Timothy 5:8).

Then, we are to be as generous as we are able. God expects us to give money to the church and to his work in the world. But, sometimes the “giving away” goes directly to someone we know who is struggling. We are to be merciful to those in true need if we have the ability to help (Luke 10:36-37). In doing so, we gain friends for God.

There are so many needs, though. How do we know where to start? The Bible says to help other Christians first (Galatians 6:10). They are like extended family to us and their needs take priority over those outside the faith. Then, if we have more, we offer our help to the needy ones God places in our path day by day.

The bottom line: God wants us to use money to build relationships! Sometimes that means taking the kids out for ice cream or going on vacation. Sometimes it means sacrificing for the good of a neighbor in need. Whatever the opportunity, money is a tool to be put to work for eternal good. (Luke 16:9). 

 

“But for money and the need of it, there would not be half the friendship in the world. It is powerful for good if divinely used.” – George MacDonald